Climate models

Gavin Schmidt: The problem with climate models? People.


Gavin Schmidt says there is nothing wrong with climate models – in fact, “they did a pretty good job of predicting what happened.” One of the reasons they’re not more specific, he says, is the people.

Dr Schmidt is the head of NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies and one of the nation’s top climatologists. He recognizes that most climate models fall short of accurate predictions.

“Do we have enough information to know that sea levels are rising? Yes. Do we have enough information to tell people whether to build a 1 meter wall or a 2 meter wall? The answer is no.”

The real wildcard in climate prediction is whether people will change their behavior and change their world in response to global warming.

“The physical part is actually quite good,” says Dr Schmidt. “But the uncertainty as to what human society will do is real. It’s really not clear how society, technology, and societal organization will react to what’s going on.

Scientists are usually wary of entering the public debate on climate change, worried about cross-political currents. But Dr. Schmidt flounders in chaos. He started RealClimate.org, a popular science and argumentation blog. He debated shy YouTubers and also fellow scientists.

It’s disheartening that science’s warnings haven’t spurred more action, he admits.

“If we had started taking the climate issue seriously 20 years ago, it would have been a lot easier,” he says. “And we wouldn’t be in the situation we find ourselves in now. But instead of bemoaning the fact, we should start doing a lot more now. “

Is he optimistic or pessimistic that mankind will act fast enough to avert catastrophe?

“It depends,” he said, “on the day.

Learn more about Dr Schmidt work on an ambitious effort to build a new climate model that could one day one day put the climate forecast in the palm of your hand.